Cost-cutting sours Inter’s title buzz

    Inter players celebrate after winning the Serie A match against Empoli. Photo: AFP Archive

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    Inter players celebrate after winning the Serie A match against Empoli. Photo: AFP Archive

    The honeymoon did not last long for the Internet.

    In May, Milan was packed with fans waving flags and singing songs outside the city’s iconic Duomo (cathedral) to celebrate the club’s first Serie A title in 11 years.

    For all the latest news, follow the Daily Star Google News channel.

    The financial problems facing Suning owners were no secret at this stage, but few expected the situation in which the Internet is now.

    One week before the start of the title defense, the club lost coach Antonio Conte, star full-back Ahraf Hakimi and now, the most painful of all, top scorer Romelu Loukakou.

    Between them, Hakimi and Loukakou were responsible for 31 goals and 20 assists in Serie A last season.

    Their loss, combined with the architect of their success in Conte, resulted in a tense atmosphere ahead of the new campaign.

    Internet fans made their presence felt during the friendly victory over Parma on Sunday, with a banner aimed at the president of the club Steven Zang.

    “Zhang, time is up,” one reads. Another, “Zhang, if you want to save the Internet, you must leave.”

    Angry fans waved banknotes in the air. Others invited a mural by Loukakos outside the San Siro. It was a remarkable change of mood from those euphoric scenes of early May.

    There were warning signs before Inter won the title.

    In February, the Suning Group abruptly announced that two of their clubs, the Chinese Super League champions Jiangsu FC and Jiangsu Suning Women, would cease operations immediately.

    In May, Ginder CEO Giuseppe Marotta said the club was looking for a partner to bring in new resources and eventually secured € 275 million ($ 323 million) in funding from Oaktree Capital Management.

    Then there was the team that played. Marotta said in May that “the main goal is to reduce costs, and therefore salaries”, after players and staff refused to reject Zhang’s call to give up his two-month salary.

    It was not long before the first domino fell.

    INTERNAL OUTPUT

    On May 26, Conte’s contract expired a year earlier, three days after the end of a league triumph campaign.

    The coach was dissatisfied with the plans to reduce costs by 15-20% and make a net transfer profit in the summer market of 70-80 million Euros.

    Zhang claimed they had “different ideas”, but Conte later said “my work has never changed”.

    Simone Inzaghi was transferred from Lazio to replace him, but three days later Hakimi was sold to Paris Saint-Germain for 60 million euros.

    “I knew about Hakimi and they told me that the other important players would stay,” said Inzaghi. Unfortunately for the new boss, this did not happen.

    While Hakimi’s sale may have been accepted as a necessary sacrifice by many fans, Loukakos’s ransom was another matter.

    LUKAKU LOSS

    The Belgian became an amulet during a shocking two-year period in Milan.

    When he and Conte arrived, Inter had just finished fourth, 21 points behind champions Juventus. Within a year, they cut that gap at one point and came second.

    A year later, the title was theirs, with Lukaku’s 24 goals and 10 assists playing a huge role in that success.

    In June, Loukakou responded to transfer speculation by saying: “I live. I feel good in the derby”.

    He did not want to move, but when Chelsea’s offer arrived, the owners of the Internet had no resistance.

    It leaves Nerazzurri in an awkward place in anticipation of the new campaign.

    The protests of the fans may well continue, while on the transfer front, the expected replacement of Lukaku, 35-year-old Edin Dzeko, is not a long-term solution.

    On May 23, Zhang said, “The hope is that this joy and positive energy will continue for 100 years.”

    It did not last even 100 days.

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